The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: College and The Short List: Grad School to find data that matters to you in your college or grad school search.
The average cost of applying to college has increased slowly but steadily in the last five years, according to data that schools reported in an annual survey to U.S. News.
Schools are asked to provide data on the cost of application fees, and in the 2012 questionnaire, colleges were given the opportunity—but were not required—to provide information about reduced fees for online applications, if applicable. The average cost of application fees that the 1,391 ranked colleges provided in spring 2012—the most recent year that U.S. News collected data—was $37.88, when not adjusted for schools' reduced online application fees.
That's the highest average in the past five years. In spring 2007, schools reported an average cost of $35.33 in application fees nationally. That average climbed to $35.97 (2008), $36.37 (2009), $36.92 (2010), and $37.45 (2011).
Some students apply to dozens of schools, which may potentially increase certain applicants' admissions chances. But applying to 30 schools, for example, would cost about $1,140 in application fees, on average, according to U.S. News's most recent data, excluding online fees that were reported separately.
At the top 10 schools for highest application costs—which is really a list of 22 schools, due to ties—the average application fee is nearly double the national average: $76.36. When calculating the list, U.S. News selected the cheaper option for schools that had different fees for applications submitted through the mail or online. But keep in mind that 1,158 of the schools that provided application fee data to U.S. News reported that they waive the fees for applicants with financial need, including all 22 schools on the top 10 list. (Fees are not waived based on need at 167 schools, and 66 didn't respond to the question.)
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Three schools—George Mason University, Salem State University, and University of New Haven—would have made the list if it only took into account their most expensive application fees ($100, $75, and $75, respectively). But they are not included because their online application fees were considerably lower ($60, $40, and $25, respectively). At least at George Mason, between 90 and 95 percent of students apply online, according to Beth Pullias, a university spokeswoman.
When adjusted to reflect the cheapest way to apply as reported by the schools, Stanford University has the most expensive application fee in the nation. Applicants to Stanford, who did not have their fees waived due to financial need, paid $90 to submit either a print or online application, according to data reported in 2012.
Schools designated by U.S. News as Unranked were excluded from this list. U.S. News did not calculate a numerical ranking for Unranked programs, because the program did not meet certain criteria that U.S. News requires to be numerically ranked.
Below is the list of schools with the highest application fees—reflecting the lowest fee, if a school charged less for online applications—for undergraduates, as reported by schools in 2012. Schools are listed from highest fee to lowest and are listed alphabetically if they have the same fee:
|School name (state)||Application fee||U.S. News rank & category|
|Stanford University (CA)||$90||6, National Universities|
|Columbia University (NY)||$80||4, National Universities|
|University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill||$80||30, National Universities|
|Villanova University (PA)||$80||1, Regional Universities (North)|
|Boston University||$75||51, National Universities|
|Brown University (RI)||$75||15, National Universities|
|College of New Jersey||$75||6, Regional Universities (North)|
|Cornell University (NY)||$75||15, National Universities|
|Dartmouth College (NH)||$75||10, National Universities|
|Drexel University (PA)||$75||83, National Universities|
|Duke University (NC)||$75||8, National Universities|
|George Washington University (DC)||$75||51, National Universities|
|Harvard University (MA)||$75||1, National Universities|
|Kean University (NJ)||$75||133, Regional Universities (North)|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||$75||6, National Universities|
|Northeastern University (MA)||$75||56, National Universities|
|Rice University (TX)||$75||17, National Universities|
|University of Chicago||$75||4, National Universities|
|University of Delaware||$75||75, National Universities|
|University of Pennsylvania||$75||8, National Universities|
|University of Texas—Austin||$75||46, National Universities|
|Yale University (CT)||$75||3, National Universities|
Don't see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find information about reduced application fees, complete rankings, and much more.
U.S. News surveyed more than 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2012 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported a myriad of data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News's data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Colleges rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data come from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News's rankings of Best Colleges or Best Graduate Schools. The application fee data above are correct as of Sept. 25, 2012.